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Prosecution issues ultimatum to ferry owner family, aides

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Published : 2014-05-02 21:17
Updated : 2014-05-02 21:17

The prosecution said Friday that it sent final notices to family members of the owner and the associates of the sunken Sewol ferry to appear for questioning after they twice refused to comply with summons.

The summons were part of an investigation into corruption allegations against Yoo Byung-eon, the former chairman of Semo Group and alleged owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owns and operates the ferry Sewol.

The Yoo family is accused of embezzlement, dereliction of duty, tax evasion and bribery, according to the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office.

The office, which is in charge of the investigations, gave an ultimatum to Yoo Hyuk-ki, the second son of the ferry mogul and two chiefs of affiliates to show up before May 8. Yoo Hyuk-ki is suspected of helping his father establish a massive slush fund through paper companies.

Investigators said they were considering whether to seek court orders to detain them if they ignore the third notice.

They also continued to tighten the net around other suspected associates of the Yoos.

Prosecutors issued a travel ban for actress Jeon Yang-ja, who is suspected to be a close aide of Yoo, and are planning to summon her for questioning.

The 72-year-old actress ― whose real name is Kim Kyoung-sook ― is a member of the controversial Christian cult Salvation Sect, thought to be connected to Yoo. Prosecutors suspect her of involvement in the Yoo family’s slush fund.

The prosecution also requested an arrest warrant for Song Kook-bin, CEO of Dapanda, a sales company owned by Yoo. He is thought to be deeply involved in irregular transactions by the Yoo family.

Authorities believe that Song paid billions of won in consultation fees to Yoo’s paper company, causing significant damages to the company. He is also suspected of purchasing photographs taken by Yoo at inflated prices.

Lee Kang-se, who is also accused of helping the billionaire stash money earned illegally, admitted that his former company Ahae paid bogus consultation fees to Yoo’s fake company, but said these actions took place before he became the CEO.

Late Thursday, the joint investigation team of police and prosecutors found that a Chonghaejin Marine Co. official surnamed Kim, fabricated documents to hide the fact that the ship was overloaded. This is expected to be a key factor in indicting the Sewol officials, given that overloading is believed to have played a huge part in the ferry’s sinking.

Prosecutors had already requested an arrest warrant for Kim on charges of manslaughter.

Kim on Friday admitted that the amount of cargo, which was well over three times the ship’s limit of 987 tons, affected the ship’s sinking. He did not comment on whether he was ordered by high-ranking officials to falsify the records.

Meanwhile, the Financial Supervisory Service said it would conduct a thorough investigation into the nation’s major lenders to see if any irregularities were involved when Yoo received 22 billion won ($21 million) in loans on favorable terms.

As the investigation into the Sewol’s operator continued, divers continued their search for 74 missing passengers of the sunken vessel. The pan-government response team said it would kick off a large-scale operation in the areas that have not yet been searched. As of 6:00 p.m. Friday, the official death toll stood at 228.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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